A stay in Lisbon or Porto can easily be combined with a few days in the small seaside and fishing village São Martinho do Porto – a real gem on Portugal’s Atlantic Coast. In summer it is popular with Portuguese families, as well as primarily Spanish and French tourists. However, it is a little charming town that has mangaged to retain some of its authentic identity, and it is not as touristy as many other beach towns along the coast.
If you are not driving in your own car, you can either rent a car or go by train from either Lisbon or Porto to the Portuguese coastal village.
With high expectations, we drive into São Martinho do Porto, a village with a population of around 3,000. We were here a couple of years ago and absolutely fell in love with the place, which, despite its location on the Atlantic coast, is a veritable gem, completely sheltered by the rocky hills between the scenic bay and the vast ocean. In this way, the large shell-shaped bay has calmest water – which is probably also a few degrees warmer than the ocean on the other side. It is a pristine and popular beach – definitely among the best on the Portuguese Atlantic Coast.
Last time we stayed at the cosy Hotel Santo António da Baía, which is tucked away in the more local part of town behind the fire station and near the market hall – we still remember the tasty and plentiful breakfast, as well as the helpfulness of the staff. Anyway, this year we want to have a different experience and have found a fully equipped apartment with a balcony right at the town square, overlooking the beach and the fishing boats.
Not surprisingly, the tide is powerful – when it’s low tide, the beach is as wide as a football field, and at high tide the sandy beach is narrowing until you almost think that you are at a different place. A local fisherman has positioned himself midway along the bay with his fishing rod and line thrown into the water – and his successful catch in a bucket a few metres behind. A stroll on the wide sandy beach along the bay takes us over to the other side to the partly dried up riverbed bordered by high sand dunes at the neighbouring village, Salir do Porto. It seems that a favourite thing to do here is to sandsurf down the dunes.
The northern part of the bay is the São Martinho do Porto’s picturesque harbour. Here, the small local fishing boats are neatly anchored side by side at high tide. At low tide, a few boats literally stand on the seabed. At the foot of Salir do Porto, the river flows into the ocean in a large delta, creating intricate patterns and small works of art in the sand.
During the morning, the local kindergartens arrive – each kindergarten being easily recognisable by the colour of the children’s caps. There are blue, orange, and red groups, each of them waiting for the signal to rush into the water. Loud and bright children’s voices cut through the air on the otherwise tranquil beach.
The local market hall is a colourful palette of fish and shellfish. The locals come here to buy fish and groceries for supper. Two fishermen’s wives standing side by side, present today’s catch. There is a great variety of salmon, tuna, squids, sardines, mussels, and a lot more of which we literally only know a few. The fisherman’s wife is eager to sell their catch to us, and she points out the fish she thinks we should choose. After a bit of communication, we end up with large, appetising salmon cuts, as well as freshly caught sardines, one of the specialties that is served everywhere here. As a bonus, we get an extra piece of salmon included in the purchase. She waves us over to the balance scale and shows that it will come on top! A couple of hours later, the fish is sizzling in the frying pan in our kitchen and, in no time, we have a super tasty meal with a side dish of courgettes and ripe tomatoes we also found at the market.
At the end of the harbour promenade, that is dotted with fish restaurants, small boats, as well as a ton of fishing gear, we find, maybe a bit surprisingly, a pedestrian tunnel through the rocky mountain to the rough Atlantic Coast on the other side. It is only when you stand out there that you really realise how protected São Martinho do Porto is, sheltered by the steep rocks.
The wind howls and the waves repeatedly drown the thousands of black crabs that seem to live in an eldorado on the slimy boulders. Barely swept away by an extra demanding wave, the crabs return and swarm around again. The abundance of crabs is a sign that there are also millions of fish in the water – which a solitary fisherman takes advantage of out here. After going back through the tunnel, we again feel the warm summer evening in São Martinho do Porto.
Besides being the perfect location for beach holidays, São Martinho do Porto is also a good base for day trips to other interesting towns and noteworthy sights in the region. You can easily go on a day trip to Nazaré, Caldas da Rainha, Foz do Arelho or Óbidos with São Martinho do Porto as the point of departure.
São Martinho do Porto – Idyllic Seaside Village on the Atlantic Coast
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São Martinho do Porto – Idyllic Seaside Village on the Atlantic Coast:
Travel In Culture